Recently I turned 35. For some years now, I try and jog my writing muscle in celebration of my revolution around the sun. This time, I realised that I am also closer to my goal of starting my own financial planning and advisory firm. A destination that had a very foggy, if at all viable path to it when the dream took fruition in my mind almost 6 years back.
One of the reasons that I stuck to the path through getting my CFP, taking the plunge into a banking sales role and then quitting corporate was the eureka feeling of helping people sort out money. Money not just in numbers but along with the emotional aspect that it comes attached with. Over the years, I have tried to observe habits and practices, my own and those of my clients. Importantly, I have also tried to understand what works and what doesn’t, atleast in my books.
Distilled from all that mulling, I now have a list of 35 money lessons in no particular order, that work for almost any situation or mindset. Since they are my own musing, it’s possible that some of them may not resonate with you. Go on, read it and let me know what you make of it.
1. Money accentuates your true nature
This thought is actually part of my rewiring the brain to not look at the messenger as the evil. A lot of us, especially in a newly liberalised India grew up distrusting money. We have often seen it as dirty, where too much of it is just going to end up corrupting you and your life. Yet, as I started delving more into it I realised this mindset is not necessarily true. Slowly, as I met HNI clients through my job I saw the varied shades of wealth which really were as striking as the number of different human personalities that you come across. Sure, there are rich crooks, but so are there poor crooks. Money doesn’t change the person, but really brings out the true personality in a much starker version.
2. Now is always the best starting point for money management
There are many reasons we think of, why money management can wait. I am too young and hardly have anything left over. I have made too many mistakes and things are too tangled up. The market is overvalued, I will wait for it to correct. Inflation is too high and I will wait for things to cool off. I can go on with excuses that seem legible to kick the can of money management down the road. But, what they say for investing holds true for Personal Finance – the best time was yesterday and the second best time is now.
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff
A friend asked me for various options as to what would be the best product where he could accumulate and save money over 6 months. We explored FD, liquid and arbitrage funds. But, by the end of it, I told him to go with the most convenient option because when it is a matter of six months and the amount may not even be too big the difference is hardly a rounding error. With money, we often end up focussing all our energy and reasoning powers on the smallest of things. On the other hand, the bigger things often go all ignored.
4. Be generous with your money
I am well acquainted with the warm feeling I get when I see someone open something I gift them (however fake their expression of delight may well be!). I see my parents use their money to help the less privileged service providers around them like the security guards and washer women. For years now I have been a fan of payroll donations. About 6 years back, I signed up for it at my first banking job where some amount would be deducted before salary credit for my chosen charity. In my last corporate job as well, I chose to have a payroll deduction for the bank’s charitable foundation. Even now, on a much lower salary I am trying to continue another monthly charitable donation. My takeaway? Money feels good only when you use atleast a part of it to do good.
5. Use money for peace of mind
There are a lot of uses for money. Yet, we often don’t realise that in it’s own small way money can buy us peace of mind as well. Build a strong emergency fund and it will reduce your anxiety of small irritable events. Ensure you are adequately insured and you are better prepared for the unpredictability of life. Don’t put in all your money into something that can totally go bust and you know you will sleep more peacefully.
6. Consolidate to keep things simple
We are all jugglers, of our time and our responsibilities in life. When it comes to managing Personal Finance, it is just one of the additional pins to throw into the mix. If we complicate it, it is easy to throw it on the wayside as well. Keep things simple. For instance, when I moved from one bank to the other, I tried the latter’s demat account. After a few months I realised it wasn’t working for me. I dragged my lazy bum to their office to make sure I close that chapter and continue having only one account for my stock investments. Similarly, when I had three bank accounts, I was barely maintaining the minimum balance in one of them. One month I got charged for it and realised it was not sustainable. So now, my mantra is two bank accounts (till whenever possible), one mutual fund account and one stock investing account.
7. Love the work, not just the money it brings
This one could be more of a personal quirk. By now I have realised I cannot work in a job where I am not completely engaged. Gradually, my discontent builds up and bubbles out into looking for a switch. I see so many people more obsessed about comparing their packages with the others rather than the job at hand. To me, that is a rocky road to happiness. Love thy work and the money will follow.
8. Understand what the “risk” is in any situation
This is another one of those eureka moments I have had in the last few years. The R-word is one of those dreaded things that most of us don’t bother peeling the layers of. It’s also one of the most versatile words in the financial dictionary. It changes it’s stripes in almost every conceivable situation. Think about it.
What is the risk of investing in proven mutual funds? The fact that the market value could go terribly down for the short term. What is the risk of not investing? The purchasing power of all that cash being eaten by inflation, so almost a return of -6%. Which risk is bigger?
What is the risk of not buying life insurance? Dying and leaving your dependents grieving financially as well. What is the risk of buying life insurance? Not needing to use it. Which risk is bigger?
I could go on and on using these analogies but I think this should suffice to give the idea that risk is subjective. For any decision, understand what it entails before either running away or towards it.
9. Revel in saving up for some things
We live in an age when easy credit is all the rage. You want something, fire up an app to borrow the money you are short and just buy it. Call me old school but there is a certain joy in saving up for things. I used to have a Recurring Deposit with the aim of saving for a holiday in Australia. The holiday never happened but seeing the meter move towards the amount was always fulfilling. In fact like a lot of experiences, it is really the journey that often becomes so much more exciting than the end destination.
10. It is possible to talk about money
They say in our society three things are taboo to be talked about – religion, sex and money. I don’t know about the other two but I have now had so many money talks. It doesn’t have to go into specific details or numbers. But, there are so many other aspects that can be easily talked about and discussed. I have had the most surprising and memorable conversations with auto and taxi drivers. So yeah, I am a believer of talking about money.
11. Invest, invest, invest
Do I even need to elaborate this point? Yes, I am a huge advocate of investing. In fact, I find it easier to sweep large amounts from my account to that purpose rather than spend. That’s not bragging but a weakness I am working on. Point being, investing is a critical aspect of our lives. Let no excuse come in your way that takes you on the path of not investing. None at all.
12. Don’t fret about timing the market
For long, I used to think investing is about knowing exactly when to get in and out. Having read way too many Personal Finance books to remember, and by my own experience I know that the idea of “timing the market” is balderdash. I remember investing a chunk of money in January 2020 even though the market looked a bit pricey. Along came Covid to huff and puff and blow the valuations away. Thankfully, I had also invested through the ten week STP route and ended up pretty okay. Post that, whenever I have a bit of liquidity I make sure I just put it in. I am possibly one of those rare investment professional who has a vague idea of the daily levels but not an obsessive tracking into it. Often when clients ask me how the market has done on that particular day, I mumble or google my way out of it. So yes, a big lesson has been not to fret about timing the market.
13. Comparison is the thief of joy
This is such a favourite of mine for life and money, yet I often tend to forget it. On a moody day, one look at Linkedin or even at my Insta feed makes me wonder where am I with money. Then gradually better sense prevails to tell me I am at a good place that works well for me. I need not look at the shimmery surface of the lives of others and cause myself stupid, unnecessary grief. Remember, comparison is always always subjective. More importantly, there is no end to it. Be grateful for all you got and just keep moving.
14. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
This is one of those things I often feel the need to tell myself. The generations before us were more content with life taking it’s own sweet pace in almost every aspect. In comparison, we are hungry and restless. While good in some instances, it can often lead us to look at everything in the short term, akin to a sprint. But, even Usain Bolt can run that fast only for 400 metres. The more you run hard, the shorter is your view. Look at your money also in the light of a marathon. Keep making small changes and improvements. Over time, it all adds up.
15. No free lunch
We Indians love our deals. If it’s free, I gotta have it. In doing so, we forget a critical economic fundamental of no free lunch. There is something vital you are giving in return. If you are mindlessly browsing “free” social media platforms, you have no way to gauge the cost of the time and attention you spend on it. If you are using another “free” app to analyse your spends and get great deals, you are happily signing away your private financial information to untested waters. If you are following advice given for “free” by financial influencers, who is to blame if you have been duped by a product being promoted by them. So, be wary of the “free” banner for you know not the costs hidden behind it.
16. Debt is a double edged sword
Is debt good or is it completely avoidable? It depends on whom you ask. In India, we have communities which will avoid it like the plague. Yet, as Mihir Desai puts it so beautifully in his book “The Wisdom of Finance”, debt is the lever to take us to scale if used well. Debt is especially useful to build assets that will appreciate in value. The more you use it for simple spends, the trickier it is to justify. So, borrow judiciously and you could well learn how to wield this weapon artfully.
17. Spend on things that matter
This is a lesson I am trying my best to learn, especially in this entrepreneurial life. When you are salaried there is a certain cycle of money you are used to. As an entrepreneur, things are different. I have often worried about spending far smaller amounts, simply hesitant to withdraw from my decent savings and investments. But then as my father likes to quote from a friend – bank mein paisa bank ka, jo khatya so batya (the money in the bank or investments belongs to them, it’s only the money you spend that has been yours). While leaning into this philosophy completely has it’s own perils, it is finally all about finding your own balance, right?
18. Avoid financial education at your own peril
For years my father badgered me to start investing and take money seriously. I was barely living a meagre paycheck to paycheck existence and having way too much fun doing so. But, somehow I had a light bulb moment and since then there’s been no looking back. Like cooking, I now believe financial literacy is a life skill. If cooking shows your responsibility to nourishing your body, financial literacy shows your commitment to the money you earn. When we end up spending so much time just earning a living, this is the least we can do.
19. Read the fine print
This is a big big one in my books. We finance industry people revel in making things complicated and adding a long laundry list of Terms and Conditions. Most of us are used to clicking on “I Agree” for anything thrown at us. But, that is never a good thing with financial products because it can often lead to a real, monetary headache. This holds true across the board. If you are using an app to round off expenses and save, what is that amount being used for? When can you withdraw and is there any penalty? For something as simple as a Fixed Deposit, what is the penalty for early withdrawal? For health insurance, what are the exclusions and what is included under waiting period? As for the complicated investing products like a real estate or venture capital fund, don’t even get me started. Read carefully before signing the dotted line and even more so in the performance reports. Trust me, numbers can be used to paint any picture. Be aware of the story you are reading into.
20. Automate judiciously
In today’s age, if lazy people like me give in to temptation, we could be waited on by any number of apps willing to do our dirty tasks. Need to pay credit card bill? Let an app do it for you. Need to know how you are spending? Let an app read all your bank SMS’s and tell you. Need to use your credit card online? Save it on all possible websites so that you don’t really need to remember it or pull it out of your wallet every time. Call me paranoid, but I like to be stingy with my automation. My main automation are the monthly SIPs that go out of my account. With the credit card bills also, I would rather force myself to check the statement every month before paying it manually. As for the apps reading my SMS’s, that’s not happening. Figure your personal comfort level with how much you want to automate and what you would want to leave for manual tasks.
21. Stay frugal, stay peaceful
This is something I have observed with so many successful people. The more you let lifestyle inflation take over your life, the more you become a slave to money. Keep your expenses and aspirations within certain boundaries and you will be so much more at peace. It is possible, especially as you don’t give into the comparison mode. Be your own person and have your own groove.
22. Be open to making mistakes
A lot of us refrain from treading uncharted, yet recommended waters in finance for the fear of making a mistake. What accentuates the feeling is that in this case, the mistake comes with a quantifying number. But, unless you show the courage to be open to mistakes, there is no other way to learn what works for you. Even when it comes to money, try out things till the time the possible screw-up cost seems bearable. Luckily, I have also had the opportunity to see the mistakes made by quite a few investors I advised, only to quietly file it for my own learnimng.
23. Personal finance is personal
Money is oh-so-personal. You may be tempted to think that it is all a very objective, rational and a numbers-based pursuit. But, that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to money. The decision that makes sense to me, may not make sense to you. For instance, just last evening me and my husband agreed to disagree on something which will make this point a bit more clear. I told him about a young colleague, about 21 years old, who asked whether it made sense for him to buy a term life insurance policy for himself. I asked if he had any financial liabilities or anyone in his family dependent on him. He answered in the negative claiming that the trigger to the thought was that he was getting a Rs. 2 Crore cover for an annual premium of Rs. 22-odd thousand which would only keep going up. I am from the school of thought that you take an insurance policy for the time that you need it. Why buy a helmet when you don’t have a scooter, just because it’s on sale? My husband on the other hand said, he would have advised him to maybe take a smaller amount so that if the situation so arose and the family’s financial condition had also changed by then, there would be some compensation. As I said, for some money related questions there is no right or wrong answer.
24. Listen to your emotions
In some ways, this follows from the point above. Money is a sum of some tangible and many more intangible aspects. Your emotions are a big input factor into anything money that you choose to do or even think about. Listen to your emotions when it comes to money. Sounds strange? Try this. While taking a big money decision, try and jot down a line or two about what you are feeling. So, if you are buying a new house, is it about the feeling of security that it will give you or a higher sense of self-esteem. If you are buying that insurance+investment policy, is it because it adds value to your portfolio or because you feel obligated to the sales person for when they helped you on your trip abroad. As you start listening in, you become more conscious about the process. Over time, your money calls will be much more in sync with your values.
25. Following the herd doesn’t always lead to a watering hole
Most of us know that like animals, humans also tend to behave in a herd-like manner. In many instances, it helps us because we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But, with personal finance it is important to remember that following the herd won’t always lead you to a watering hole. Sometimes, it might as well take you to a flaming fire. My mom’s always asked me this question – if everyone jumps off a cliff, are you going to follow suit? So, when it comes to a money action that everyone around you is taking, evaluate it on it’s own merit. Don’t assume the wisdom of the crowd but use it only as an entry point for consideration.
26. Bias to action
One of the biggest challenges of Personal Finance is the inertia we experience. So so many times I have reviewed client portfolios with actions mutually agreed upon. Yet, they remain unheeded. Even personally, a lot of the money tasks often get piled on to the side as life keeps chugging along. Although some of the tasks can be tedious aiding this inertia, having a bias to just putting things in action can yield wonderful results. Unsure how to start investing? Start just one SIP.
27. Yet sometimes, inaction works much better
It is possible to confuse the previous point with making constant changes. If anything, especially in investing, inaction can work much better. Few years back, a minion of mine started two SIPs at my nudging. Then came some market headwinds leading her to stop those. But, in the post covid market surge I got a perplexed call from her asking how the funds seemed to be doing so well. Her inaction to not redeem came from ignorance and led to a vital lesson to believe more in equity investing (and of course in my advice!). For many things, taking action is very easy today. Just hit redeem. Just hit borrow. When it seems too easy, count to a hundred or take a day’s time. If it still feels like a pressing action, then take it.
28. Ask ask ask
If you look around, for most of your money queries there will be someone you can trust your questions with. Although, if it is beyond a single simple question, I would suggest going to a professional for advice. The bottom line remains, ask and you shall get, your answers I mean. Don’t push your questions under the carpet. I did have the addendum of google, google, google to this point. But, like with medical issues, google can often take you down the wormhole of the worst possible path. If you ask how to start investing and the best SEO article tells you to “invest” in an insurance policy at a young age, phew! This example was by the way inspired by real events.
29. Remember your money wins
Like with anything, we have the wins and the mistakes in money as well. Sure mistakes are a great teacher but wins boost our confidence along with the lessons they bring to the table. One of my biggest money wins is the practice of “have liquidity, will invest”. Even with the money wins, they will not always be number oriented. Another money win is some progress on my mental rewiring as I exited corporate life, with some help from my husband.
30. New is not necessarily cool
Don’t get me wrong. I am a big believer of innovation. But for a lot of things money, the simple classic works best. Hence, I am not too taken by IPOs or NFOs and would rather wait for the proof of the pudding. Sometimes refusing to be an early adopter works and sometimes it doesn’t. Even when the first REIT came, I was a bit sceptical to see how it would work in the Indian markets. Today, I think it is the best option for portfolio diversification and have a bit invested in all three. So, check out the new but don’t run to it just for the shiny novelty.
31. Ignore not the boring stuff aka taxes
As they say, in life only two things are certain – death and taxes. Sure, the latter is a funny concept. You owe something to the state and it knows how much you owe. Yet it is a secret that you are supposed to unearth with some unholy godforsaken calculations. But if something could come back to bite you, might as well work it out in a way that it doesn’t. So, make all your tax saving investments in time, remember all ways you have saved taxes at the time of filing (for instance, I often forget my donations which give me a tax rebate) and also consider this aspect in your investing when you arrive at expected returns.
32. Always consider upkeep costs
With some of our purchases or assets, we make the error of looking at them as a one-time decision. But, like my husband often mentions – if you buy an elephant, keeping it alive is no easy task either. So, if you are stretching your budget massively to fit in that luxury car, remember every dent and every maintenance visit will cost you through the nose. Look not just at the initial purchase but the lifetime of anything you spend your money on.
33. Outsource for things others are good at
As Indians and avid youtubers, we often feel confident enough to DIY everything. But, there is merit in outsourcing things to experts. Here, I am not just talking about sourdough bread and choosing to buy it rather than stinking up your kitchen (yes, I am talking from lockdown experience). But, even things like financial advice. You might know exactly what you want, but sometimes divorcing emotions from action comes easier with a third party involved. Spend money when you know someone will add more value to the process.
34. Synchronised money values in relationships are a life saver
We do not operate in life as islands. Money is a living throbbing force which flows between all our human relationships as well. Following that, having money values in sync leads to much more fulfilling relationships. While it’s starkly true in marriages, other relationships are not immune to it either. Gifting is often seen as a social reciprocal relationship. It is possible that a friend keeps giving you expensive gifts and you don’t feel the need to. Odds are high that it becomes an unspoken point of conflict. Another scenario is when our money values start deviating from our family, be it parents or siblings. Trying to find a middle path is always helpful.
35. Money does not follow a linear path
This is really a direct follow from the idea of life not following a linear path. There will be ups and downs. There will be times of wondering whether things will ever get better or smoothen out. There will be times when you will feel on top of the world. Money, after all, is a reflection of our lives and when has life been a straight predictable strong path. But, when you try to remember this about money things feel easier be it on the peak or in the valley.
So, that is the wisdom sprouting out of a freshly minted 35-year-old. Do you agree with any of the money lessons shared above? What are some of the money lessons you have taken to heart? Let me know in the comments below.